The Dangerous Dead: The Early Medieval deviant burial at Southwell, Nottinghamshire in a wider context
MBArchaeology Local Heritage Series, Number 3, October (2012)
In 1959 Charles Daniels discovered the skeletal remains of an Anglo-Saxon inhumation burial whilst undertaking excavations in preparation for a new school that was to be built on Church Street, Southwell, Nottinghamshire. This burial is one of close to two hundred and fifty that have since been unearthed at the Church Street site, but it is also unique. For what Daniels discovered was a deviant burial or, to paraphrase Dr. John Blair, one of the ‘dangerous dead’ (Blair, 2009), because the remains had been ritually staked, with iron nails piercing the shoulders, heart and ankles (Daniels, 1965), a practice that although so far unique to Southwell, is widespread in the early Anglo-Saxon period.
Ever since Major Hayman Rooke found evidence of the Roman villa in and around the Church Street site in 1787, the Saxon remains have played second fiddle. In his 1959 excavations, Daniels gained evidence relating to the bath-house of the villa in the East Wing, and of several rooms complete with mosaic floors in the South Wing. And more recent excavations at the proposed development site on Church Street by Pre-Construct Archaeological Services Ltd. (2008-09) revealed further structural remains and sections of a large stone wall probably dating to the 2nd century AD. Yet what these excavations also revealed were some of the jigsaw pieces relating to the early Saxon church and cemetery site at Southwell, a church whose whereabouts remain elusive, at least for the present.